Bangladesh capital markets: An overview

Sajid Amit | Published: April 23, 2016 19:02:41 | Updated: October 22, 2017 02:43:12


Over the last 12 years, the Bangladesh economy has sustained an average GDP (gross domestic product) growth of around 6.0 per cent per year, accompanied by significant shifts in the sectoral outputs, away from agriculture to industry and services, towards an increasing contribution of the private sector to growth in investment. One of the drivers of the private sector contribution to investment has been the remarkable growth of the Bangladesh banking sector.

Although less than a quarter of the population are formally classified as "banked", there are over 50 private commercial banks in the country, and several of them have acquired mobile banking licences to bridge the gap between the banked and the unbanked.

With regard to capital market organisations, although merchant banks and brokerage firms typically constitute the non-banking financial institution (NBFI) sector of the economy, several banks have sister-concern brokerage firms and merchant banks. However, despite the growth and development of the banking sector, the NBFI sector at large, and the capital markets in particular, have lagged behind.

Although stock exchanges were formally inaugurated in Bangladesh as early as 1954, the markets did not see any noticeable activity until 1990s. However, till that time, the number of equities traded, average turnover and market capitalisation in the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE) remained significantly lower than indicators for regional counterparts.

The regulatory environment was inadequate and market regulations outdated and not systematically enforced. In this milieu of weak institutional structure and inadequate governance, the market experienced its first speculative bubble and burst in 1996-1997. Investors who were affected due to the bubble and burst stayed away from the market for the next several years.

However, the bubble and burst also led to operational developments such as the introduction of electronic trading in August 1998, the establishment and incorporation of the Central Depository Bangladesh Ltd (CDBL) as a public limited company in August 2000 and the incorporation of the Central Depository System (CDS) as an independent company in January 2004.

From 2007 onwards, in the aftermath of the largest IPO at the time, that of Grameenphone Ltd., the market began to appreciate culminating in a significant bubble in 2010. In 2010 alone, the DSE was the second-highest performing market globally, with the general index, DGEN, posting a 92 per cent y-o-y return. However the bubble was short-lived, as the market began to slow from December 8, 2010, beginning a protracted phase of contraction.

STOCK MARKET CRASH 1996: In 1996, the number of Beneficiary Owner (BO) account holders was only 25,000 and most of them were new to the market. The number is put into context when one considers that the number of BO accounts opened in February 2010 alone was 250,000. The Dhaka Stock Exchange was yet to witness electronic automated trading, as paper shares used to be sold in front of the DSE, which rendered the detection of fake shares from original ones considerably difficult. Between 1991 and 1995, DGEN price index rose 139.3 per cent to reach 834.

Subsequently, in 1996 alone, the rate of appreciation took a dramatic turn, and the price index rose 33 per cent, with DGEN reaching 3649 on November 5, 1996. Meanwhile, the CSE also experienced a dramatic uptrend, appreciating 258 per cent. The CSE Index appreciated from 409 to 1157 points in 1996. November marked the turning-point, with the DGEN losing 233 points on November 6, 1996, which initiated the downturn. In less than six months, as the bubble burst, DGEN index dropped to 957 in April 1997, erasing gains of the previous ten months. The market slowdown continued for the next 7 years until April 2004, during which time, DGEN seldom crossed 1000.

In 1996, the sharp increase in the general index was the obvious indicator of bubble formation. In fact, in developing countries like Bangladesh, the formation of bubbles is usually more easily discernible, and can be judged from anomalies in index trends alone.

Weak correlation between underlying fundamentals of companies and the prices of their stocks are usually sufficient to determine bubbles. However, given the embryonic stage of capital markets in Bangladesh in 1996 as well as very low levels of investor literacy, investors resorted to heavy usage of margin lending, fuelled by accelerated money and credit growth.

Moreover, there was significant collusion between certain brokerage houses and listed companies, which ensured the uptrend of certain companies' stock prices between June and November 1996. Certain companies that were listed from 1994 onward, through relatively small IPOs, played an important role in the crash. For instance, Excelsior Shoes, which issued 11,850 shares with a face value of BDT 100, managed to sell 10,000 shares at BDT 503 each, on its first day of trading, on account of relations with particular brokers.

Shinepukur Holdings experienced a similar uptrend as its share price rose from BDT 70 to BDT 700, while companies such as Wonderland Toys, Jihil Bangla, Rupon Oil, and Mark BD also experienced and contributed to the price bubble, reportedly, in collusion with brokerage houses.

One of the noteworthy take-away's from the crash of 1996 is that the bubble had formed within a very short period of time. The DGEN at its peak on November 05, 1996, had appreciated by 332 per cent in only six months. When the market began to reverse, the correction also occurred very quickly. This is not unusual of stock markets at very early-stages of their development, since the index's rise and decline are usually a function of collusive behaviour between institutional investors, high-net worth investors and brokerage firms, which cumulatively, drive the majority of the volume of shares traded.

STOCK MARKET CRASH 2010: After a protracted period of relative inactivity, the DGEN began to recover in April 2004. Although DGEN recorded a CAGR of 14.63 per cent from 2001 to 2009, it was not until late 2007 that the index showed any sustained appreciation. In late 2007, several foreign institutional investors (FIIs) began to take positions in leading Bangladeshi equities - both multinational companies as well as large local conglomerate stocks - partially driven by a global move towards frontier market equities, and partially in response to favourable corporate fundamentals.

The 12-month cumulative net inflow of foreign funds reached US $148 million in October 2007. As is the case for most frontier markets, infusion of foreign funds into equities tend to stabilise the market and pave the way for appreciation, since foreign investors tend to not be day-traders and prefer long positions instead, on the basis of company fundamentals.

Next, in 2009, DGEN posted a 62 per cent appreciation y-o-y. However, the most significant acceleration of the index set in from November 2009 around the time of IPO of Grameenphone. On November 15, 2009, a day before the launch of trade of GP shares, DGEN stood at 3383, 2.0 per cent higher from January 2009. In only one day - on November 16, 2009 - the DGEN rose to a historical high of 4148, which marked a 23 per cent rise day-on-day.

Thereafter, DGEN continued to climb sharply, reaching 5828 on February 17, 2010, registering a 71 per cent increase from November 2009. Between February and May, the index took a minor dip to 5500, but from the second week of May, the bubble was back in force, reaching 6333 on June 13, 2010. Fuelled by investments by banks, the DGEN reached 8500 by the second week of December. At the time, the market capitalisation of the DSE was around US$ 52 billion, about 50 per cent of the nation's GDP at the time, and more than 60 times the market capitalisation of the year 2000.

A leading indicator for the bubble in the market was the increasing BO accounts. The number of registered BO accounts with the CDBL increased from 1.79 million in end-December 2009 to 1.90 million in January 2010. As of June 2010, the number of BO accounts stood at 2.5 million thereby indicating that around one hundred twenty six thousand new retail investors took to the market every month in FY 2010.

As indicated earlier, the liquidity into the capital markets was driven by increasing routing of bank funds into the markets. Banks with sister concern merchant banks and brokerage wings invested in the market either through margin loans through their merchant bank and brokerage concerns, direct portfolio investment, or indirectly, as several debt products from banks, including credit card loans, were routed by bank customers into the market.

Meanwhile, with regard to FIIs, as the market continued to heat up, they began to pull out of their positions and the twelve-month cumulative net withdrawal from DSE peaked to US$486 million by April 2010. By the time the index peaked in December 2010, it is believed that virtually all foreign portfolio investment had been withdrawn from the market. In fact, between 2009 and 2010, sizable amounts were withdrawn from the stock market and FIIs booked capital gains and awaited the market correction.

Once the most significant phase of the market correction ended around April 2011, FIIs began to return to the market from May onwards to pick up undervalued stocks. Statistics indicate foreign investments in Bangladesh's bourses peaked in 2013 at $930 million that dropped to $610 million in 2014.This is a significant sign of market recovery, and bodes well for the market heading in 2016 and 2017, since foreign portfolio investment tends to have lagged effect on the market.

STOCK MARKETS -- PRESENT & FUTURE: On January 28, 2013, the DSE launched three new indices: the DSE Broad Index ("DSEX"), DSE 30 Index ("DS30") and the DSE Shariah Index ("DSES"). The first two, DSEX and DS30 were designed and developed by S&P Dow Jones, the leading global provider of benchmark indices. On April 29, 2013, The Exchange Demutualisation Act 2013 was passed by the Bangladesh Parliament, gazetted on May 2, 2013.

An Appellate Board comprising retired judges from the High Court Division was also formed to settle investor claims related to the 2010 market collapse. Surveillance software was installed in order to maintain transparency and accountability of the markets through closer scrutiny of transactions.

Both the Securities and Exchanges Commission Act 1990 and Securities and Exchange Ordinance 1969 have been amended.

Despite some initial delays, both the Demutualisation Act and the Banking Control Act (BCA) have been submitted to and approved by Parliament and the demutualisation of Dhaka and Chittagong Stock Exchanges has been completed. Also after initial delays, the new Financial Reporting Act which includes provisions for setting up an independent Financial Reporting Council has been approved by Parliament in September 2015.

With regard to the outgoing year 2015, the market yielded a negative 4.8 per cent return, which is hardly a disaster keeping in mind that business activity in the country was significantly slowed down in the early part of the year due to political turmoil and blockades.

The year also witnessed certain decisive steps by the government. First of all, corporate income tax for listed companies was lowered and rules for new stock and mutual fund issues were revised. A second silver lining of 2015 was the fall of short and long-term interest rates in the economy.

The depositors' rate is below double-digit after being above double-digit in 2013 and 2014. The money market has idle funds as evidenced by some of the lowest call money rates in recent history and the savings rate on national savings instruments has also declined.

A determinant of the performance of fledgling stock markets also tends to be the issuance of stocks of large multinational companies or large local conglomerates. In the case of the former, the last multinational company to be listed with the bourse was Grameenphone in 2009.

Currently, 13 multinational companies are listed on the DSE, including Bata Shoe, Grameenphone, Heidelberg Cement, Lafarge Surma Cement, British American Tobacco, Berger Paints, Linde BD and Singer Bangladesh.

However, given that several new regulatory frameworks are in place, merchant bankers and analysts have redoubled efforts to persuade multinationals to come to the market. At the Bangladesh Capital Market Expo 2015, Commerce Minster Tofail Ahmed urged the BSEC to prepare a comprehensive plan of action to list multinational companies in Bangladesh.

Very encouragingly for the market, the Minster said, "Multinational companies like Unilever and Nestle should come to the market, and the regulator should make a comprehensive plan of action to bring in more such firms." Steps towards actualising this would enable long-term growth for the market.

Another positive development for the market was Bangladesh Bank circular that aims to redefine bank investment in the capital market, effective from January 2016. In essence, the circular stipulates that the capital provided by banks to their subsidiary companies will not come into the calculation of the parent banks' total capital market investment.

Theoretically, this should translate into new investments in the capital market by banks, given that there is already excess liquidity in the money market and in a relatively low-interest-rate economy.

Moreover, since 33 of the 51 full-fledged merchant banks are bank-owned, the cumulative impact of this circular appears to auger well with the market.

The writer is Director, Center for Enterprise & Society (CES), University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) who contributed it, as a piece of work on behalf of the ULAB's CES

author's e-mail address: sajid.amit@ulab.edu.bd
 

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